One of the advantages oflearning frenchis that you are learning not only the language of France, but that of many countries and territories around the world.
You are no doubt aware that French is spoken alongside English in Canada. But have you ever wondered why?
- Do you know how Canadian French differs from the French spoken in France?
- And the French and Canadians can talk to each other without much difficulty?
- Or is it easy for misunderstandings to arise?
If you have ever asked yourself these questions or similar ones, here are the answers you were looking for!
By the end of this post, you will know the 3 main differences between Canadian or Quebecois French and French from France. You will be ready for a trip to the French-speaking regions of Canada.
Speaking of which, let's start by talking about why and where people speak French in Canada.
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Why do they speak French in Canada?
French is spoken in some parts of Canada for quite logical historical reasons. Long story short, the French were the first to establish significant settlements in what is now Canada.
They called it New France then. However, after a war with the British, France was forced to cede its North American territories.
The result was that the victorious English-speaking Protestant minority found itself ruling over a large French-speaking Catholic population. Rather than force the colonists to change their language and religion, the British allowed them to continue speaking French and practicing Catholicism.
From there, the French spoken in Canada followed a different trajectory thanthe language of france, with some interesting results, as we will see.
Where is French spoken in Canada?
As you know, the French-speaking population of CanadaIt is centered on the province of Quebec.
About 22% of Canadians speak French as their first language. And of those, around 85-95% are Quebecers.
Unsurprisingly, most other French speakers live in the areas around Quebec, primarily Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Alberta.
By the way, there are differences between the French spoken in Quebec and in other parts of the country. In this post, I will focus on Quebec French. But keep in mind that this doesn't tell the whole story.
What is the current situation of French Quebecers?
At the federal level, French has the same status as English as one of Canada's two official languages. Since 1977, French has also enjoyed the status of official provincial language in Quebec, where the local French-speaking heritage is vigorously and proudly protected.
In France, the A.french academyis the authority on the French language, taking responsibility for preserving it and maintaining its purity. In Canada, theQuebec Office of the French Language(OQLF) fulfills a similar role. And, in many ways, it does it with much more zeal than its European counterpart.
For example, in Quebec,there are very strict rules to avoid "contamination" of the language by anglicisms. While in France you will normally see 'STOP' signs while driving, the same signs in the Quebec state 'ARRÊT'.
Authorities have also strictly suppressed a common French telephone greeting in Quebec "bonjour-hi", intended primarily to inform the caller that either language can be used.
In fact, this obsession with protecting the province's linguistic heritage sometimes reached levels of absurdity, as happened in 2013. In an episode known as “pastagate”, a restaurant was warned for not complying with language laws.
The establishment in question was an Italian restaurant. And he drew the ire of the language police for including words like 'pasta', 'antipasto' and 'caprese' on his menu. After much ridicule and a high-profile resignation, the OQLF relented.
Linguistic controversy surrounding Quebec French
The controversy over Canadian French in Quebec goes beyond concern over menus. While it is understandable that people want to protect their language,Many say that by over-legislating, authorities are actually putting young people at a disadvantage.
There is a law that requires native French-speaking children in Quebec to attend French-speaking elementary and secondary schools. But after that, many choose to attend English-speaking universities.
There is concern that this will gradually erode the status of the French language in Quebec. But the fact is that a native English-speaking Canadian has much less need to learn French than vice versa.
French-speaking Canadians taking English classes are unlikely to forget their native language. But it is argued that discouraging young Quebecers who want to improve their language skills from attending university in English will limit their development and opportunities.
It is difficult to find a balance. And the debate continues.
What are the differences between French in Canada and France?
If you can get by with your French in France or Belgium and think your knowledge of the language will prepare you for a trip to Quebec,you could get a shock.
Even native French speakers from France can find Canadian French a big challenge at first. If you have a good level of French but have never heard Québécois French before, look upidiotson YouTube and you'll see what I mean.
Canadian French speakers can easily understand French spoken in France (Metropolitan French), as formal Quebec French is quite similar.But the problem for French-speaking Europeans arises when Canadians speak a more colloquial version of their language.That's when the differences become more apparent. We will review them in the next section.
Canadian French Difference #1: Vocabulary
Perhaps the most obvious way in which Canadian and Metropolitan French differ is invocabulary.
The vocabulary of the Canadian version of the language has developed in interesting ways since the two diverged in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Let's take a look at some of them now.
old fashioned words
When the North American settlers were essentially cut off from Europe, the French they spoke was frozen in time in a way.
In Canada you can still hear things likebecausemimore thaninstead ofbecausemifurther(“because” and “but”), expressions that the French have not used for centuries.
The French of Canada also reflect the importance of religion to the early Catholic settlers.
French Canadians consider words likethe bars(tabernacle),Calvary(Calvary) andhug him(chalice) Louder expletives than the usual collection of sex- and excrement-based expletives in most other languages.
Another difference is in the use of loans.
You can read that Canadian French has borrowed many more words from English than European French. I'm not so sure this is true.But the truth is that the two languages absorbed words differently.
An interesting example is the “watermelon”. The European French wordwatermelonIt is a word of Arabic origin, which probably reflects the arrival of the fruit in France through Muslim Spain.
However, watermelons were not well known in Europe before the early 17th century. canadian french wordwatermelonis a direct translation of the English word, suggesting that they were introduced to Canadian settlers by English speakers.
Other examples of this includetoothpastefor toothpaste instead oftoothpasteused in France. And this trend of translating continues to this day.
Now, where French in France simply uses the English word directly, giving us words like "weekend" and "skateboard", much to the chagrin of A.french academy– Canadian French prefers terms likeweekendmirouli-roulant.
With some words emerging in recent years, Francophones on both sides of the Atlantic have attempted to create French versions to replace the English ones.
For "email", French speakers createdemail(ofcorrespondencemielectronic). But you're much more likely to hear that word in Canada. The French often choose the English word.
Related to this is the ingenious Canadian creationSpamto "spam" - which coincidesemailcomrotten, the French word for "rotten". The wordSpamIt is unknown in France.
However,Canadian French also has words taken directly from English that you will never hear in France.. You can find verbs likereliable(trust) oobserver(assist). however, the OQLF may prohibit such uses.
Loans from other languages
One thing that is sure to appeal to Francophones in France is loanwords from Canada's native languages.
For example, while in France there is talk ofsandals(sandals), the Canadian French word isyou drink.
Another feature of Québécois French that would confuse Europeans is the use of contractions.
Canadians love to shorten their words. SoUEbecomessimulator, ellabecomesa,Nobecomess'amiNobecomesinside.
You may sometimes hear that Canadian French almost never uses theSubject pronoun Us, almost always replacing it withabout. While this may be true, it is also the case for France and is not specific to Canada.
One difference is thatCanadians are much quicker to use the familiaryouform instead of formalYOU.Although even in Canada, you should still useYOUShow respect in situations where it is necessary.
Cultural specificities and linguistic change
Some words related specifically to Canadian culture may not be familiar to European French-speakers.
A good example can bepoutine, the name of a beloved Québécois dish of French fries (“French fries” to my American readers!), cheese curds, and gravy. Althoughpoutineit is now also known outside of Canada.
Some words have acquired different meanings over time.The wordconvenience storein France it refers to the person you call for help when your car breaks down on the side of the road.
However, in Canada, the same word now refers to a "convenience store". I guess the idea is similar: these stores help you out when you unexpectedly run out of something you need.
And then there is a word that deserves a special mention:gosses. In metropolitan French, this is a colloquial word meaning "children." So if you sayhow are you kids?to your friend, you would be asking how their children are.
However, in Canada, the meaning is a bit different. If you were to ask a person from Quebec this question, it would mean "how are your testicles?" So it's probably a good expression to avoid!
Canadian French Difference #2: Pronunciation
OpronunciationCanadian French is also quite different from metropolitan French. And even someone who doesn't speak French could tell that they are not the same.
In a way, the differences in pronunciation also reflect the fact that Canadian French was isolated from French French for several centuries. On the surface, modern Québécois French sounds more like the Parisian French of the time the colonists left for the New World.
The biggest difference is in certain vowel sounds.Although some consonants are also different. For example, words likemaîtremiputwhich were previously pronounced differently are now indistinguishable in France. But the French Canadian still holds the difference.
If you're familiar with the sound of metropolitan French and want to hear what Canadian French sounds like, check outidiotsYouTube sketches I mentioned above.
You will probably be surprised at how different and difficult to understand Canadian French can be.
Canadian French Difference #3: Grammar
Finally, there are some grammatical differences that can be confusing if you are used to European French grammar.
To give just one example, the use ofNoin metropolitan French it is very different in Canada.
So instead of listeningthe tool i need(the tool I need), in Canada you can listenthe tool i need. As you can see, a very different construction!
Two very different versions of French.
The differences between Canadian French and metropolitan French aremore pronounced than the differences between British and American English.
And perhaps they are more comparable to the differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.
If you're going to the French-speaking parts of Canada, don't be afraid to test your French. The people there will love it if you try to speak their language.
But if you're used to French from France, allow an adjustment period before you understand French Canadians.